The sadness of the waffles drives me to Craigslist. Guess things happen like that sometimes.
Amelia got the house in the divorce. And the TV. And the couch. And the microfleece blanket we used to snuggle under as we watched that TV on that couch in that house. She got almost everything.
I got the waffle iron. And the dog.
I’d say I made out okay.
In hindsight though, I should’ve let her keep the waffle iron, too.
We’d gotten the waffle iron as a wedding gift, and one morning I got the bright idea to surprise my new bride with waffles for breakfast.
Amelia was surprised alright. She was so surprised that when the smoke alarm started bleating and the house filled with acrid smoke produced by the carbon squares that were technically waffles, she almost called 911. Apparently there’s a learning curve to making waffles. Things they don’t tell you in Home Ec.
After that, thanks to Amelia and her firm grasp of the culinary arts, I learned how to make waffles. They became the cornerstone of our marriage, really. Waffles on weekend mornings, waffles for dinner sometimes, waffles on our anniversary, even.
You know when you see a couple laughing about something, and you ask what they’re laughing about, and they tell you but you don’t get it because it’s some cutesy inside thing that only they get? For Amelia and me, waffles were that cutesy inside thing.
I should’ve known things were bad when she started to want pancakes.
Weeks after I install myself in an apartment that’s as empty as the rest of my life, I’m hunched over the kitchen counter one morning, staring at the brushed chrome surface of the waffle iron. The box of Aunt Jemima sits next to the mixing bowl, which is flanked by milk, eggs, and oil. All the ingredients are there except the will to make the stupid things.
I regard the iron some more, give up, fill the mixing bowl with Corn Pops, and splash in some milk.
Standing over the kitchen counter, I shovel soggy Pops into my mouth and chew slowly. I pick out a few mushy nuggets and feed them to my dog, Bella, when I spot my laptop on the living room floor. It’s better company than the counter and a logical stand-in for the TV I no longer own so, bowl in hand, I pad over to it. Bella trails me.
Since I still don’t have a couch, I park myself on the floor and boot up the computer. Bella plops down next to me, the patch of white, arrow-shaped fur on her forehead standing out against the brown. She mewls, and I give her a few more Pops. She sucks them down and lays her head in my lap. She’s the one bitch who will never leave me.
The laptop wheezes to life, and I pirate an open Wi-Fi connection from somewhere nearby to get online. I check my email and find a message from my buddy, Chad, in my inbox.
The subject is “Gonna try to bang this crazy broad,” and all that’s listed in the body is a link to a Craigslist personal ad.
I have another spoonful of Pops, suck in an errant droplet of milk that’s threatening to add itself to the stains on my t-shirt, and click the link.
The headline is “My pussy is dripping, will you fill it?,” and the ad says “I’m a super horny 25-year-old looking for a hung dude to watch me pee and then fuck me in front of an open window. Send pic (full body, dick out) to get one back. Must be able to host.”
To Chad I write, “Don’t get stabbed.” I send my reply and return to Craigslist.
Chad’s been using Craigslist to hook up with randoms for a while now. The last girl he was with was really into being choked. When I asked Chad if that was weird, he said, “Fuck no, it was awesome!” Before that, it was a girl who loved being fisted. When asked if that was weird, he said, “Fuck no, it was awesome!”
At the time, I was skeeved out by Chad’s debauchery. At the time, though, I was still married. Now, sitting in front of a computer cruising the Casual Encounters listings with nothing but a cereal bowl and my dog for company, I get it. Loneliness is a strange mistress.
I’m clicking on random ads, most of which echo the one Chad sent me, when one catches my eye. The headline is “Cute married chick looking for NSA hook-ups.” I have no idea what NSA means – I’m over 30, after all – so I Google it. I should’ve guessed it meant “no strings attached.”
The ad reads “I’m looking for a regular, NSA, DDF friend with benefits. I’m married so it needs to be super discreet. And please, no questions about personal life. I’m 28, 5’5, 120lbs, red hair, hazel eyes. Send a pic to get a pic.” Had to look up “DDF,” too. These people and their acronyms. Why can’t they just say “drug and disease free”?
I love redheads. Always have. Amelia was blonde. I’ve dated brunettes. Never got to be with a redhead.
I hoist the mixing bowl to my lips and guzzle the sugary milk. I belch and look down at Bella. “What do you think, Bell?” I say. “Should I answer?” She yawns. I take that as a yes.
Before I compose my reply, I run through some photos stored on my hard drive. I find a relatively recent one of Amelia and me. We’re smiling and pretending like our world isn’t going to violently bisect at any moment. The memory stabs. “Fuck,” I say. Shaking it off, I crop out Amelia and resave the picture.
I go back to my email and bang out a message: I’m interested, I’ll be discreet, blah blah blah. I attach the photo and send it off.
Months pass. I hear nothing from the redhead, and I forget all about the ad. When I finally get an email from her, it says more or less what mine said: if you’re interested, let me know. A picture is attached.
I click on the attachment, and the photo fills my screen. Her body is small and tight, her face is round and freckled. She has a head of long, curly, orange-reddish hair. Her only physical flaw is a small collection of acne scars on each cheek. Other than that, she’s a centerfold.
I damn near sprain a finger typing my reply.
I hear back from her a little later. She says her name is Vera and that she likes the “cut” of my “jib.” Tough to tell if she’s making a joke. I think probably she is.
We decide to meet at a hotel not far from my apartment in a couple days. I tell her to call the front desk when she gets there, have them transfer the call to my room, at which point I’ll give her the room number. She agrees and I log off.
Then I go buy a pay-as-you-go burner from a convenience store.
I figure if this goes well, she might want to hook up again, and I’d rather not give her my actual phone number because I use my phone for work.
Chad told me a story after he started up with all this Craigslist stuff. He met a girl on there, gave her his cell phone number, and one night he got a call from a number he didn’t recognize. He was half in the bag so he answered with his “sexy voice” and asked the caller if she was fingering herself. “She” was Chad’s boss, Paul. Paul was calling from another phone because his cell phone died and he needed Chad to fix something on some spreadsheet. Chad got the heave-ho due to “irreconcilable differences” but Chad and I both knew it was because of that phone call. Lesson learned: don’t use a work phone for anything but work.
I show up to the hotel an hour before we’re supposed to meet. I get a room, go up, and lie down on the bed.
I turn on the television. It’s tuned to the hotel’s “about us” channel. It’s droning on about their special couples’ massages when I switch it off. Half an hour passes, and I’m having second thoughts.
I use the bathroom. After I finish, I decide this isn’t for me. I’m about to leave and have my hand on the doorknob when the phone rings. I pick up, and a silky voice says, “Hey, it’s Vera.”
I give her the room number and she hangs up. A few minutes later there’s a knock at the door.
I open it, and Vera is standing there. She’s wearing a black down vest over a white long-sleeve shirt. Brown leather boots cover the calves of her tight jeans. I stifle a grin – she’s dressed like Han Solo.
She smiles, sticks out her hand. “Hi. I’m Vera.”
“Lyle,” I say, taking her hand. Her grip is warm and firm, her skin soft.
I stand there, grinning like an idiot.
Her brow raises slightly.
“Oh,” I say. “Come in.”
Vera crosses the threshold, hitching up a satchel-style purse on her shoulder.
She walks to the foot of the bed and looks at the nightstand. Three condoms are sitting on top of it.
“Oh, um,” I say. “This is embarrassing. I didn’t mean to.” I put my hands on my hips. “Shit.”
She moves toward me. I’m pretty sure she’s going to walk right by and out of the room when she stops inches in front of me. She kisses me as we move to the bed.
We undress each other down to our underwear. I have my hands at the waistband of Vera’s underpants when she gets up and goes to the window. She pulls the shades closed, plunging the room into near darkness.
She comes back to bed and pulls the sheets aside, slipping in. She smiles and reaches under the covers. She pulls out a lacy black thong and fires it at me like a rubber band. It hits me in the face. She giggles and motions for me to join her.
As I slide in between the sheets, Vera turns onto her side, facing the window, away from me. I remove my underwear and spoon her. My boner parks itself in the crack of her ass. She cranes her head back and kisses me, grinding her ass against me.
I reach around to her crotch. She intercepts my hand before I make it there, directing it to her mouth instead. The diamond of her wedding ring winks at me as she sucks my finger. When she’s finished she puts my wet finger on one of her nipples, tracing little circles with it. She moans. “Get a condom,” she says.
I grab a rubber off the nightstand. I start to roll it on, and Vera reaches back to finish the job. Then, still on her side, she guides me inside her.
Pumping away, I feel like a marionette. She’s pulling the strings, I’m moving to her whims. Dance, puppet, dance.
Vera moans intermittently. Each one is soft, barely audible, like her parents are in the next room. She clenches up as I’m about to come, and when I do, she shivers. “Mmm,” she says. I assume she came, too.
She sighs, gets out of bed, gathers her clothes from the floor, and beelines to the bathroom. I pull off the condom and am searching for something to wrap it in when she emerges from the bathroom fully dressed, a Wookiee being the only thing missing from her ensemble.
She picks up her purse and rifles through it. The room is still bathed in darkness so I have no idea how the hell she can see what she’s looking for. A second later she pulls out a slip of paper. She places it on the foot of the bed. “Call me sometime,” she says. “I had fun.” With that, she hurries out of the room.
I drop the condom on the bed and reach for the paper. It’s got her name and number on it.
I sit back against the headboard, studying the piece of paper. I’m admiring Vera’s handwriting – it’s the nicest I’ve ever seen – when I feel a wetness against my leg. It’s the condom, leaking onto the bed. Yuck.
I stare at the rubber, all used and forgotten. “I know how you feel,” I say.
A couple days later I text Vera from my burner. I hear back immediately. We decide to meet at a different hotel. Half an hour passes, and she texts me the room number, instructing to me to “just come up.”
I get to the hotel and wander up to her room, knocking out “Shave and a Haircut” on the door. She opens up, greeting me in nothing but a pink thong. This one appears to have a silky quality to it. I mean, I think it does. The shades are drawn again so it’s tough to see.
Vera pulls me into the room and kisses me so hard our teeth click together. She pulls back, giggles, and kisses me again.
Unbuttoning my pants, she leads me to the edge of the bed. She yanks my pants down to my ankles, taking my boxers with them, and pushes me onto the bed. Leaning over the bed, she proceeds to give me a world-class blowjob. She could teach a class, that’s how good it is. For all I know, she does teach a class.
I’m close to coming when she stops and rolls a condom onto my dick. I don’t know where it came from. She’s like the David Copperfield of fucking.
She turns around, squats over me, pulls her underwear to the side, and rides me reverse cowgirl-style, making very little noise. Once again, it’s her show. I’m just the apparatus, so to speak.
Like our first time together, we finish simultaneously. And like the first time, she scurries to the bathroom immediately after, scooping up her clothes along the way.
I stare at the ceiling. I feel dizzy and disoriented, like I just fucked a tornado. I’m not sure if this is good or bad.
Vera steps out of the bathroom fully clothed and throws her purse over her shoulder. Instead of making a speedy exit, she crosses to the window and flings the shades open, the afternoon sun spilling into the room. I squint.
She takes a yellow elastic from her wrist and ties back some of her hair so that a small bun sits above a curtain of orangey curls. She narrows her eyes at me. A beat passes. She says, “You want to get some coffee?”
Still staring at the ceiling, I pull off the condom and drop it on the pillow, the creep version of a complimentary mint. “Okay,” I say.
We’re at a diner around the corner from the hotel. It’s midafternoon so there are only a few other people in there. Senior citizens, business folks out for a late lunch.
A waitress straight out of Central Casting comes to our booth to take our order, popping gum in between sentences.
Vera orders coffee and asks for skim milk on the side. I ask for mine black. The waitress jots it down and turns to leave, popping her gum some more. Vera says, “Ooh, wait.” The waitress turns. “You have pecan pie?” The waitress nods, pen hovering above her order pad. To me, Vera says, “If I get pie will you have some?” I shrug and nod. Vera smiles at the waitress. “One slice of pecan pie, please.” The waitress makes a note and off she goes.
The coffee and pie arrive. Vera pours in some milk and takes a sip of her coffee. I sip mine and burn my tongue.
“Hot,” I say.
“Want some milk?” she says.
I shake my head.
“Sorry for waiting so long to email you back,” she says. “This whole thing is kinda new to me.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I say. “New to me, too.” I reach over and spear some pie with my fork. I eat it, and it’s some of the best goddamn pecan pie I’ve ever had.
I love diners.
I say, “You do this a lot?” She raises an eyebrow. “Go out for coffee with strangers, I mean.”
She smiles. “We’re hardly strangers now.”
“You know what I mean. Your husband know you do this?” I pause. “Sorry,” I say. “No personal stuff, right?”
Vera shrugs. “It’s okay, I don’t mind.” She sips her coffee. “I don’t know even know why I put that in there. Just seemed like the thing to do.” She picks up the stainless steel demitasse and pours a little more milk into her coffee. “Anyway, my husband doesn’t know I do this because my husband is at work,” she says. “He’s always at work.” She stares into her mug for a moment then looks up. “And to answer your other question, I don’t do this very often.” She takes a bite of pie, chews. “Mmm,” she says. She concentrates on the pie as she separates another morsel with her fork. “You ever been married?” It’s like she’s asking the pecans.
“Once,” I say. “She died.” A half-truth, really: Amelia’s dead to me.
Vera puts the pie in her mouth and chews slowly. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she says. “When’d she die?”
“A few months ago,” I say. Again, not complete bullshit.
“Oh my god,” she says, putting her hand over mouth.
I pile on more details. I don’t know why. She had cancer. Breast cancer. Started as a lump, metastasized. Moved to her lungs. Then her brain. I do Susan G. Komen walks now. I quit while I’m ahead and ask her what kind of work her husband does.
Vera says her husband is in finance. Works 80- to 90-hour weeks most times. Comes home exhausted, barely acknowledges her when he flops into bed, sometimes still wearing his suit. He used to be in shape. Now he’s overweight and pasty, the by-product of processed trans fats and fluorescent lighting.
I’m on the verge of blurting out that it’s not his fault, that he’s only trying to build a life for her, for them, for their children if they choose to have them. I’m on the verge of blurting out all of this because I was in finance, and Vera is describing what led to the decline of my marriage. But I stay quiet, playing the role of the sensitive widower.
I look at my watch and tell Vera that I have to get going, that I’m “watching my buddy’s dog” and need to let her out.
That isn’t bullshit; Bella does need to go out. But not right now. Truth is, I’m feeling ill. Maybe it’s the pie.
I slap a ten on the table and slide out of the booth. “See you ‘round,” I say. I don’t look back when I walk out.
My stomach is doing gymnastics as I drive home, bouncing and flipping. I open my window. Cool air rushes into the cabin.
I quit my job after Amelia and I split. Didn’t see the point in working that hard if I wasn’t building a life with somebody. I became a consultant instead. Pay isn’t as good but the hours are much more tolerable. Wonder if Vera or her husband knows that’s an option. If I were a nice guy, I’d drop the charade and help her save her marriage. Some sensitive widower I am.
I curse myself for asking about Vera’s marriage. “No questions about personal life” – I should’ve abided by that.
I get home and walk Bella. My stomach has settled when my pocket vibrates. I take out the burner.
It’s a text. From Vera.
I ignore it and turn the phone off.
A week later I’m sitting on my new couch texting with Chad about the pee fetish girl: did he meet her? Was it weird?
Instead of saying, “Fuck no, it was awesome!” he starts telling me about her interests (she likes to kayak), her job (she’s a vet), her favorite food (Indian is first, Thai is a close second), and so on.
Wait. Is he in love?
“And holy fuck,” he adds, “girl knows how to suck a dick.”
Yup. Love alright.
Ever been the only single person at a wedding? That’s how this feels.
It’s enough to make me flip on the burner.
Vera’s texted only two more times since the one a week ago. I start to punch out a response but give up and call instead.
She asks if I want to “come over.” As in “to my place.” My stomach lurches at the idea of seeing The House of the Unraveling Marriage so I ignore the suggestion, telling her to meet me at a hotel if she wants to see me. She agrees, and I hang up and make the arrangements. I text her to meet me at the hotel in an hour, which she does.
I attack her when she gets to the room. I’m like early man, tearing at her clothes. She ain’t in charge this time; I am.
The room is dark because I closed the shades. I still don’t understand why the room has to be pitch black but whatever, I can compromise. She’d find a way to close them anyway.
I get almost every stitch of clothing off her and move in to kiss her when she pulls away. She walks over to the bed, takes off her underwear, and bends over. I remove my clothes as I stomp over, putting a condom on in the process.
I take her from behind and it hits me: I’m doing what she wants me to do, she’s still calling the shots. I wanted to face her but she won’t let me have my way. I pump away, grunting through gritted teeth.
Most women would be disgusted, stop me, call me an animal. Not Vera. She pushes back, making those faint “uhh uhh” sounds.
We finish. I collapse onto her, our faces buried in the bedspread. Vera elbows me off her. I don’t fight it. What’s the point, why pretend I have even a modicum of control.
I grab her wrist when she starts for the bathroom. I try to pull her back to the bed but it’s no use. She twists away, grabbing her underwear off the floor. It’s a surprise when she stops short and puts them on, disregarding the bathroom entirely. Her back is still turned to me.
Vera goes around to the other side of the bed, pulls the comforter down, and gets in. She props herself up on her elbow and smiles. “Bad day?” she says.
“Something like that,” I say. I’m a furnace so I stay on top of the comforter.
“Wanna talk about it?” she says. She runs her hand through my hair, leans over and kisses my forehead.
My stomach throws itself against my ribcage. Guess it wasn’t the pie after all; my body is rejecting Vera. I exhale. “I can’t do this anymore,” I say. Sweat pops out on my nose. “You need to fix your marriage.”
Vera sits up. “But I don’t—“
I put up a hand. “Save it.”
I get up and my stomach tries to stay behind. I put a hand against the wall to steady myself as I grab my boxers off the floor. I say, “Your husband is trying build a life for you guys.” I pull them on and reach for my pants and shirt. “That’s why he works so hard.” I wriggle into my pants. “So be a big girl and grow up.” I tug my shirt over my head. “See ya.” I snag my shoes on the way out the door, put them on in the elevator.
When I get to the lobby, I snap the burner in half and toss it in the trashcan. Then I vomit into it.
I’m at the dog park with Bella a few weeks later. The sun is shining. My life still blows but my conscience is clear.
Things could be worse.
I’m sitting on a park bench, watching Bella sniff a schnauzer’s ass. I feel a tap on my shoulder. I look up. It’s Vera.
Things are worse.
“Hey,” she says. She points at the vacant spot next to me. “Mind if I sit?”
I turn my attention back to Bella. She’s moved on to the ass of a corgi. I shrug.
She sits. “So,” she says.
“So,” I say. The diamond in her ring catches the light and redirects it into my eye. Blinded by her love. Fitting.
Vera jerks her chin at the canines. “You still watching your friend’s dog?”
“Yeah,” I say. “He travels a lot. For work.”
“Which one is yours?” she says. “Or his. Whatever.”
“Brown mutt,” I say, pointing at Bella. “Sniffing that dachshund’s ass.” I’ll never figure out Bella’s fascination with small dogs.
She smiles. “Cute.” Her smile fades. “Haven’t heard from you in a while.”
“Lost my phone,” I say. Technically, that’s true; I don’t know which landfill it’s in.
“You could’ve emailed me,” she says.
“How’s your marriage?” My eyes move to her ring and then to her. “I assume you’re still married.”
Vera considers her ring, twists it this way and that. “Oh,” she says. “Yeah. Um. He’s. I mean, we’re.” She sighs. “It’s complicated.”
“Right.” I stand and whistle for Bella. She trots over, leaving the ass of a rat terrier in her wake. I clip the leash to Bella’s collar. She sniffs Vera’s knee as Vera scratches behind her ear. I give the leash a gentle tug. “C’mon, Bell.” To Vera I say, “Bye.”
A little later I’m home, spread out on the couch.
Bella is beside me gnawing on a dried chicken strip. It was a treat for sniffing so many tiny canine asses. Pretty sure she set a record this time.
The mutt takes her attention away from the strip and looks toward the door. A second later there’s a knock.
And they say bats are the only animals with radar.
I go to the door and open it. Vera is standing there.
“Uh,” I say. “How did you—“
“Followed you home from the park,” she says. “Gotta use your bathroom.” She grabs my hand. “Show me where it is.”
I lead her to the bathroom. She flicks on the light and stands in front of the toilet.
She takes off her wedding ring, holds it up. “See this?” she says. She drops it in the toilet and flushes it. “Got that for 30 bucks at Wal-Mart. Who knew their costume jewelry was that nice?” She turns off the light and steps out into the hallway. “I’m not married.”
My mouth hangs open, an aircraft carrier for flies.
“Matter of fact, I’ve never been married,” she says. “All that stuff about finance? Got that from my brother, he’s an investment banker. I described him.”
I laugh because I’m relieved. Because the situation is nothing if not amusing. Because only on Craigslist can you find a married woman who wants to have an affair who isn’t actually married.
I laugh because what the fuck else can I do?
“You’re not mad?” she says.
I smile. “No, I’m not mad.” I pull her to me and kiss her.
I disengage and take her hand, lead her into my bedroom. I kiss her again, reach under her shirt, and draw my hand across her stomach. Trembling, she exhales.
I pull off her shirt and kiss her chest. My hands move to her jeans, and I unbutton them. Her hands gently pull mine away, and she turns around, dropping her pants. Her underwear hugs the cheeks of her round ass.
I press my lips to her freckled shoulder and turn her around. “Not this time,” I say.
Vera hangs her head. “I can’t,” she says.
“Sure you can,” I say. A tear drips down her face and briefly pools in one of her acne scars before moving along. “What’s wrong?”
“You don’t know me,” she says, clasping her hands in front of her.
“You don’t know me, either,” I say. “It’s a good time to start over.”
I move to kiss her but she puts her hand out. I stop.
She shakes her head. “Don’t.” Her hands move to the waistband of her underwear. “You need to see something first.”
I nod, and her panties drop to the ground.
Buried in a small thatch of ginger curls is a tiny penis. I squint. Actually, it’s not a penis; there’s no discernible shaft, no balls. Rather, it’s a huge clitoris that looks like a penis.
“I’m an intersexual,” she says. Vera crosses her arms over her bare stomach, hugging herself. Her head droops and curls fall in her face.
An intersexual. Some people might define Vera as a hermaphrodite but a hermaphrodite has full sets of both male and female genitalia. A real deal human hermaphrodite is extremely rare. As in almost never happens. Intersexuals are more common, and their genitalia is usually…mixed. Like one ovary and one testicle, stuff like that. In Vera’s case, she happens to have an enormous clit that is noticeably penis-like.
I drop to my knees, bury my face between her legs, and show her just how much that doesn’t matter. It works, too, because the next thing I know, we’re a sweaty tangle of limbs and heavy panting.
This time, with her inhibitions gone, Vera doesn’t play the role of the puppeteer. Rather, we’re a partnership as we intertwine and move together.
She doesn’t make the little coquettish moans that I’m used to, either; her cries of exultation are sometimes accompanied by small whimpers, like she’s been freed after years of captivity. She comes three times, each time shuddering to a halt but quickly starting up again. When we can’t go anymore, she melts into me and I hold her. I’m exhausted and happy.
I breathe in her warm, syrupy funk and close my eyes.
The next morning I smell waffles. The smell takes me back to Amelia, our house, our marriage. A wave of nausea sucker punches me but it passes.
Vera isn’t in bed but her clothes are still scattered around the room. I get up and slip my boxers on.
I’m pulling a t-shirt over my head when I shuffle into the kitchen. Bella spots me from the couch and scampers in, too.
The waffle iron is tucked into a corner. Vera is at the stove, gripping the handle of a frying pan. A mixing bowl sits adjacent to the cooktop.
She’s wearing the shirt she tore off me the night before, and it hangs open a bit. Her penis-y clit seems to peek out at me but it could just be my imagination.
In one motion, she maneuvers a spatula into the pan and gives the pancake inside a quick flip.
I come up behind her, wrap my arms around her waist, and bury my face in her curls. They smell like strawberries.
“Pancakes, huh?” I say.
“Saw the waffle iron,” she says. “Thought you’d like something different.”
I chuckle and put my chin on her shoulder. “My wife isn’t dead,” I say. “She’s alive and lives in Kenosha. We got divorced a few months ago.” Bella noses around Vera’s knees like she did the day before. “And I’m not dog sitting. Bella’s mine.”
“I know,” she says, patting my hands. “You’re a terrible liar.”